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Film Education in the Emerald City

Film Education in the Emerald City

Articles - Education

Seattle Film Institute

It’s no accident that Seattle, Washington has wound
up on MM’s “Top 10 Cities to be an Independent Moviemaker” for three
years in a row. With the largest independent film program in the
Northwest, the Seattle Film Institute is satiating the Emerald City’s
interest in moviemaking. Founded in 1994, the school has seen tremendous
growth over the past nine years, while continuing its original commitment
to individual attention and hands-on learning. Here, SFI founder
David Shulman shares with MM his philosophy of eating, living and
breathing film.

Jennifer Wood (MM): How would you define
the mission of the Seattle Film Institute?

David Shulman (DS): Our mission is to provide
students with the knowledge, skills, tools and experience needed
to pursue a career in the motion picture industry. We encourage
them to follow their own creative paths as independent filmmakers
or screenwriters; to furnish a foundation in filmmaking for work
in digital video, new technologies or on the Web.

MM: What sets you apart from other film
programs?

DS: The Seattle Film Institute offers the largest
independent film program in the Northwest. Our 40-week certificate
program has small classes, accessible tuition, a real hands-on curriculum
with more shooting days

than practically anyplace else. And it is perhaps
the only certificate program in the country to offer industry internships
to every single student who completes the program.

MM: What are the main disciplines the Seattle
Film Institute teaches? What are some of the topics/areas of filmmaking
that you find students are most interested in learning about?

DS: The 40-week, full-time total immersion
program provides a complete hands-on overview of the filmmaking
and screenwriting process, as well as a solid grounding in film
history. Students are in class four days a week for four hours a
day. One day a week is devoted to screenwriting, two days each week
to production and one day each week to film analysis. By the end
of the program, students have completed a feature-length screenplay,
have done a number of digital video projects and have completed
several 16mm films. Students who come to the Seattle Film Institute
have a strong interest in production and are particularly interested
in as broad an education as possible.

MM: Who are your students, for the most
part? Are they recent graduates, or working professionals? Are there
different educational levels?

DS: Students who come to the Institute are
after a film school education. Though some students have previous
experience, the program is designed to take a student with little
or no previous experience and prepare him or her for a career in
the film industry or as an independent filmmaker. The median age
of students is in the mid-20s. The current class has a number of
students who have just graduated from high school, as well as students
who are have already had successful careers in other professions.

MM: Who are some of the local companies
and organizations you work with to further the "hands-on"
approach you take to learning?

DS: The Seattle Film Institute has a strong
connection with the local film industry. Students have internships
at a wide variety of businesses, ranging from film labs such as
Alpha Cine to production houses such as Victory Productions. Not
only do students gain valuable experience in their internships,
but our graduates are actively sought after and are much respected
by the local film community. Local companies also tend to be very
supportive of our alumni as they start work on their own projects
after they have completed the certificate program.

MM: Can you talk a bit about your faculty-are
they typically working professionals or academics?

DS: The faculty at the Seattle Film Institute
are, at one and the same time, working professionals and experienced
teachers. Faculty members have their own careers as directors, screenwriters,
producers and cinematographers. Alec Carlin, who teaches advanced
screenwriting, just won Best of Festival at Palm Springs for his
film, Outpatient, which he wrote and directed. Students receive
the benefit and stimulation of being taught by people who are working
in the industry, but who also know what it’s like to learn in a
film school environment. Many of the faculty attended film schools
themselves, including the University of Southern California.

MM: How do you think being in Seattle helps
your students learn about the moviemaking industry? How does it
hurt them not being in a traditional moviemaking center like NYC
or LA?

DS: Seattle is a great place to both study
and live. It’s also a great place to make films in terms of externals-locations
and local support of projects. The local film industry is also large
enough so that students have a great opportunity to use the skills
they learn. Students who have moved down to Los Angeles after graduating
have all done well, so I believe it comes down to a combination
of the student’s personality and what they’re interested in doing
rather than where they learned their skills.

MM: What is one little-known fact about
the Seattle film industry/community?

DS: I’ll give you two little-known facts. First,
the Washington State Film and Video Office has become incredibly
supportive of independent and low-budget filmmakers. Normally, these
state offices are geared to support the big mainstream projects,
but ours really does look out for the smaller fish in the pond.
Second, Seattle has a really strong community of actors. At one
time there were more equity theatres here than any place outside
of New York-and the local acting community is very receptive to
participating in all types of projects, including student films.

MM: What is the one piece of advice you’d
give to someone looking to enroll in a film education program? And
what would you say to someone considering the Seattle Film Institute?

DS: I tell prospective students that since
they really don’t know where their careers will take them down the
road, it’s really important to learn about all aspects of filmmaking.
Don’t do anything that eliminates choices. The best way to become
a filmmaker and to develop the craft is by doing. And by doing.
And by doing. The Seattle Film Institute is really the place to
be for those who want to jumpstart their career by eating, living
and breathing film.

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